MoJo Author Feeds: Tim McDonnell | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en The Supreme Court Just Did Serious Damage to the Fight Against Climate Change <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Supreme Court dealt a blow to President Barack Obama's climate agenda Tuesday evening by <a href="" target="_blank">putting his flagship greenhouse gas emissions rules on hold</a>. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices granted the stay in response to a lawsuits by coal companies and two dozen coal-reliant states. The plaintiffs have argued that by setting new limits on carbon pollution from power plants, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is overstepping its authority to control the electricity sector.</p> <p>The ruling is far from a death knell for the Clean Power Plan, as the policy is known. Rather, it allows power companies and state official to hold off on preparing for the new regulations until the courts decide whether the administration went too far. The cases will most likely end up in front of the Supreme Court sometime next year, so there's still plenty of time before the plan's fate is sealed.</p> <p>According to Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, the Court's track record on EPA regulations is pretty favorable for environmentalists.</p> <p>"Every regulation from EPA is attacked legally," she said. "There might be delays, but there is almost always a rule that come out the other end."</p> <p>But in the meantime, the ruling could throw a wrench in the delicate diplomacy surrounding the global climate agreement reached in Paris in December. One defining feature of the Paris summit that made it the most successful round of climate talks in two decades was the leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry and other US officials. It was the Clean Power Plan that gave other countries confidence that the US was finally willing to do something about its own massive carbon footprint. In other words, the plan was supposed to be Obama's proof that the US would follow through on its Paris promises. Now, the trust of other big polluters&mdash;China, India, the European Union&mdash;could be shaken. That could have a chilling effect on climate action around the globe.</p> <p>"I think the stay raises doubts in other countries' minds," said Jake Schmidt, international program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I'm already getting a lot of questions and confusion [from policy analysts abroad]. There will be a lot of outreach to explain what this really means."</p> <p>Their concerns may well be justified&mdash;even if the Supreme Court ultimately does rule in favor of the administration. That's because, regardless of the case's final outcome, yesterday's stay will make the Clean Power Plan more vulnerable if a Republican wins the presidential election in November. All of the leading GOP candidates have vowed to roll back Obama's climate agenda. (Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both promised to carry it forward.)</p> <p>The problem is the timeline, explained Robert Stavins, director of Harvard's Environmental Economics program. Until yesterday, state regulators and power companies were in the early stages of putting together their plans to comply with the regulation. But with the stay in place, power companies can push off the investments and upgrades required by the plan&mdash;switching coal-fired power plants to natural gas, improving efficiency on the electric grid, building more wind and solar energy, etc. That means that by the time the next president takes office, the power companies will have sunk less capital into implementing the plan, and will have less incentive to see it survive than if they had already made those investments, Stavins said. With that potential roadblock out of the way, a Republican president would have an easier time killing the plan.</p> <p>"That's a subtle chain of causality, but it's the one that&mdash;if understood&mdash;may reasonably cause concern to other countries regarding the ability of the USA to live up to its [Paris promises]," Stavins said.</p> <p>Still, at least in the short term, the US doesn't need the Clean Power Plan to follow through on its initial Paris commitments, Schmidt said. The US will be required to submit its first progress report under the agreement in 2020, a couple years before the Clean Power Plan was originally scheduled to take effect. Moreover, he said, even if countries such as China and India are spooked by the Supreme Court's new ruling, they're unlikely to jump ship on their own climate plans.</p> <p>"When you look at what's happened over the past couple years, it's really hopeful that the US is moving forward," Schmidt said. "But most countries aren't moving forward solely on the basis of what the US is doing."</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Energy International Supreme Court Wed, 10 Feb 2016 22:08:26 +0000 Tim McDonnell 296516 at Here’s Why Chris Christie’s Zika Quarantines Would Be Pointless <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>During Saturday night's Republican primary debate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would use quarantines to prevent the Zika virus outbreak from spreading in the United States. <a href="" target="_blank">From<em> </em>a <em>Washington Post </em>transcript</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>MARTHA RADDATZ (ABC MODERATOR): Governor Christie, at the peak of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, you ordered an American nurse who landed at Newark Airport be detained and quarantined. As fear spreads now of the Zika virus and with the Rio Olympics just months away, is there a scenario where you would quarantine people traveling back from Brazil to prevent the spread in the United States?</p> <p>CHRISTIE: You bet I would. And the fact is that because I took strong action to make sure that anyone who was showing symptoms&mdash;remember what happened with that nurse. She was showing symptoms and coming back from a place that had the Ebola virus active and she had been treating patients. This was not just some&mdash;like, we picked up her just for the heck of it, alright?</p> <p>We did it because she was showing symptoms, and the fact is that's the way we should make these decision. You make these decisions based upon the symptoms, the medicine, and the law. We quarantined her, she turned out to test negative ultimately after 48 hours, and we released her back to the State of Maine.</p> </blockquote> <p>That position might make for a tough-sounding talking point during a debate. But it's totally pointless as a matter of public health, experts said.</p> <p>"Zika is rarely, if ever, spread from person to person, so quarantining infected people will do nothing to stem a Zika outbreak," said Laurie Garret, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.</p> <p>Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has <a href="" target="_blank">spread to more than 1 million people throughout Latin America</a>. The symptoms of the virus itself are usually mild or nonexistent. But it could be dangerous for pregnant women: Zika has been tentatively linked to a spike in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which infants are born with small heads and can have incomplete brain development.</p> <p>Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California-Davis Children's Hospital, agreed that a quarantine wouldn't be much help in controlling an outbreak. "The vast majority of transmissions are from mosquito bites, and most of the country doesn't have the [Zika-carrying <em>Aedes aegypti</em>] mosquito in high concentrations," he said. "So I don't think [a quarantine] is necessary or would be beneficial in any way."</p> <p>Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, gave a somewhat more measured response when asked a similar question about Zika during Saturday's debate:</p> <blockquote> <p>CARSON: Do we quarantine people? If we have evidence that they are infected, and that there is evidence that that infection can spread by something that they're doing, yes. But, just willy-nilly going out and quarantining a bunch of people because they've been to Brazil, I don't believe that that's going to work. What we really need to be thinking about is how do we get this disease under control?</p> </blockquote> <p>Christie received substantial criticism for his response to 2014's Ebola outbreak. He ordered the quarantine of a nurse, Kaci Hickox, after she returned from fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone. Last October, Hickox <a href="" target="_blank">filed a lawsuit</a> against Christie for false imprisonment and other claims, arguing that she had not, in fact, exhibited any symptoms indicative of Ebola when she landed at New Jersey's Newark airport. Ultimately, she did not end up having the virus. That legal case is ongoing.</p> <p>"The merits of Christie's actions in the Hickox case will no doubt be decided in court, probably long after he has withdrawn from the presidential race," Garret said. "But his Zika comments can be addressed immediately."</p> <p>Garret added that Christie didn't quarantine a <a href="" target="_blank">woman who was New Jersey's first confirmed Zika case</a>, identified in late January while visiting the state from Colombia.</p> <p>Elizabeth Talbot, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth College's School of Medicine, said a more effective solution is to focus on controlling and eradicating the mosquitoes that can carry Zika.</p> <p>"Our public health energies are best invested in providing education about preventing bites and prioritizing the protection of pregnant women by advising them to postpone travel to affected regions whenever possible," she said in an email. "The CDC is also recommending that meticulous attention be given to protect persons from mosquito bites if they are identified with Zika in the US following travel. This is so that our <em>Aedes aegypti</em> mosquitoes in the southernmost US do not become infected with Zika and transmit Zika disease in the US. Preventing mosquito bites for ill patients is not the same thing as quarantine, which can be an inflammatory or even scary word."</p></body></html> Environment 2016 Elections Animals Civil Liberties Climate Desk Health Science Top Stories Chris Christie Mon, 08 Feb 2016 21:56:21 +0000 Tim McDonnell 296291 at Obama Wants to Raise Your Gas Prices to Pay for Trains <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In his final State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama <a href="" target="_blank">promised to</a> "change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet." A few days later, he <a href="" target="_blank">followed through on the coal aspect of that pledge</a>, with a plan to overhaul how coal mining leases are awarded on federal land. Now, he seems ready to roll out his plan for oil.</p> <p>The president's budget proposal for his last year in office, set to be released next week, will contain a provision to place a new tax on oil, White House aides told reporters. <a href="" target="_blank">According to <em>Politico</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>The president will propose more than $300 billion worth of investments over the next decade in mass transit, high-speed rail, self-driving cars, and other transportation approaches designed to reduce carbon emissions and congestion. To pay for it all, Obama will call for a $10 "fee" on every barrel of oil, a surcharge that would be paid by oil companies but would presumably be passed along to consumers&hellip;The fee could add as much as 25 cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline.</p> </blockquote> <p>The proposal stands virtually no chance of being adopted by Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the renowned climate change denier who also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> in a statement, "I'm unsure why the president bothers to continue to send a budget to Congress. His proposals are not serious, and this is another one which is dead on arrival."</p> <p>Still, the idea may be helped a little by the sustained drop in oil prices, driven by a glut of supply from the Middle East and record production in the United States. Gas is already selling for less than $2 per gallon <a href="" target="_blank">in all but 11 states</a>, the lowest price point since 2009. Raising that cost would also be <a href="" target="_blank">a boon for electric vehicle sales</a>, which have stagnated because of low gas prices as sales of gas guzzlers have climbed.</p> <p>Obama's prospective Democratic successors, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, haven't weighed in on this proposal yet, although they have both been broadly supportive of his climate change agenda. But the proposal could prove to be awkward for Clinton, who has <a href="" target="_blank">promised not to raise taxes</a> on families making less than $250,000 a year.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Obama Fri, 05 Feb 2016 18:02:19 +0000 Tim McDonnell 296006 at Closing This Nuclear Plant Could Cause an Environmental Disaster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant sits by the scenic hills overlooking the California coast, a few hours' drive north of Los Angeles. It's the state's only remaining nuclear plant (after the San Onofre plant was <a href="" target="_blank">closed</a> in 2013), and it's responsible for about one-tenth of the state's electricity, serving more than 3 million homes and businesses.</p> <p>Since construction on the plant began in the late 1960s, Diablo Canyon has been a focal point of the nationwide controversy over nuclear power. In 1981, roughly <a href="" target="_blank">2,000 protesters (including the singer-songwriter Jackson Browne) were arrested</a> at the construction site. Ever since, the plant has faced opposition from environmental groups like the <a href="" target="_blank">Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth</a>. But now, the plant is attracting an unlikely wave of support from some of the country's most prominent environmentalists and climate change scientists.</p> <p>Last week, in an effort to ensure that Diablo Canyon isn't shut down in the near future, this new coalition sent a <a href="" target="_blank">letter</a> to Gov. Jerry Brown (D); the CEO of Pacific Gas &amp; Electric, the utility that owns the plant; and five state regulatory officials. The letter warned that "closing Diablo Canyon would make it far harder to meet the state's climate goals." The 61 signatories include <a href="" target="_blank">Whole Earth Catalog</a> founder Stewart Brand, climate scientists James Hansen of Columbia University and Kerry Emanuel of MIT, and the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.</p> <p>Their concerns center around an upcoming-ish deadline for PG&amp;E to renew the plant's operating license. The current license is good through 2024 for one of the plant's two units and 2025 for the other. If PG&amp;E wants to keep the plant running after that, it will need to seek approval from Brown's administration and possibly from local officials in San Luis Obispo County. In its letter, the group called for a renewed operating license that could keep the plant running into the 2040s.</p> <p>But the utility is on the fence. "We have not made a decision to move forward with license renewal," a spokesperson said, adding that the company is in the middle of a study on seismic activity in the area. (The plant is near a few major fault lines.) In a statement to the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>San Francisco Chronicle</em></a>, Tony Earley, the utility's CEO, was more blunt: "We've got a lot on our plates, and we just don't need to take on another big public issue right now." And while 2024 may seem like a long way off, the license renewal process can take a long time, and utility executives have been quietly mulling it since <a href="" target="_blank">at least 2009</a>.</p> <div class="getty embed image" style="background-color:#fff;display:inline-block;font-family:'Helvetica Neue',Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif;color:#a7a7a7;font-size:11px;width:100%;max-width:630px;"> <div style="padding:0;margin:0;text-align:left;"><a href="" style="color:#a7a7a7;text-decoration:none;font-weight:normal !important;border:none;display:inline-block;" target="_blank">Embed from Getty Images</a></div> <div style="overflow:hidden;position:relative;height:0;padding:66.498316% 0 0 0;width:100%;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="419" scrolling="no" src="//;viewMoreLink=on&amp;sig=jGzJEC6CG3OOn0UJr2vynAZMg_fdyrAeD_iJjwtuCwE=&amp;caption=true" style="display:inline-block;position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;margin:0;" width="630"></iframe></div> <p style="margin:0;">&nbsp;</p> </div> <p>As the global campaign against climate change has gathered steam in recent years, old controversies surrounding nuclear energy have been re-ignited. For all their supposed faults&mdash;radioactive waste, links to the Cold War arms race, the specter of a catastrophic meltdown&mdash;nuclear plants have the benefit of producing huge amounts of electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions. That may not have mattered much to Jackson Browne and his fellow activists in the '80s, but it matters now. A recent analysis by the International Energy Agency found that in order for the world to meet the global warming limit <a href="" target="_blank">enshrined in the Paris climate agreement</a> in December, nuclear's share of global energy production will need to grow from around <a href="" target="_blank">11 percent in 2013 to 16 percent by 2030</a>. (The share from coal, meanwhile, needs to shrink from 41 percent to 19 percent, and wind needs to grow from 3 percent to 11 percent.)</p> <p>In Paris, Hansen&mdash;probably the world's most influential climate scientist since he first warned Congress about global warming back in 1988&mdash;gave a talk in which he <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> nuclear "has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change." It was a point Hansen and some of his allies have made repeatedly over the past year in <a href="" target="_blank">talks</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">op-eds</a>. That message has <a href="" target="_blank">opened a rift</a> in an otherwise cohesive bloc of climate hawks: Those who think a carbon-free energy future is impossible without nuclear are now squaring off against those who think the challenge can be met using only renewables like wind and solar.</p> <p>Among the former group is Michael Shellenberger, who until recently was president of the Oakland-based environmental think tank Breakthrough Institute and now runs a new group, Environmental Progress. Shellenberger organized the Diablo Canyon campaign after he realized that the larger debate about nuclear could be crystallized around this one existing plant.</p> <p>"I'm tired of arguing about the future," he said. "Let's decide what we're going to do right now with the largest single source of clean energy in California."</p> <p>According to <a href="" target="_blank">Shellenberger's research</a>, Diablo Canyon currently produces twice as much power as all the state's solar panels (California is the nation's <a href="" target="_blank">No. 1 solar state</a>). Closing it, he said, would not only shave off one-fifth of the state's zero-carbon energy, but potentially increase the state's emissions by an amount equivalent to putting 2 million cars on the road per year. That's because the power gap left by the plant's closure would likely be filled by new natural gas plants&mdash;which is what happened when San Onofre was shuttered.</p> <p>"What's powerful about Diablo is the sheer size of it," he said. "If you flip it [off], carbon emissions go up so much."</p> <p>That's an important quandary for Gov. Brown, who has tried to position his state as a national leader on climate policy and clean energy. During his first term as governor in the mid-'70s, <a href="" target="_blank">Brown opposed the plant</a>. But in 2012 he said he had become more open to nuclear power because "it's good for greenhouse gases." Brown's office declined to comment on Shellenberger's letter.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/jerry-brown_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Gov. Jerry Brown addresses an anti-nuclear rally near the Diablo Canyon power plant in 1979. At the time, he was opposed to nuclear power, but his views may have softened. </strong>Brich/AP</div> </div> <p>California <a href="" target="_blank">played an outsize role at the Paris talks</a>, with a bevy of the state's political and business leaders, including Brown, touting the state's <a href="" target="_blank">ambitious</a> greenhouse gas reduction targets, its <a href="" target="_blank">cap-and-trade</a> program and <a href="" target="_blank">clean-energy investment,</a> and other successes. Still, the state's rate of reducing carbon emissions is <a href="" target="_blank">slower than the national average</a>&mdash;a 7.5 percent reduction since 2000, compared with 9.6 percent nationwide. It will need to pick up the pace in order to meet its <a href="" target="_blank">ultimate goal</a> of bringing statewide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. &nbsp;</p> <p>The problem, Shellenberger said, is that despite the plethora of solar panels on rooftops and electric vehicles on the roads, "people don't understand how little that stuff is compared to a single nuclear plant." Moreover, he added, a nuclear plant has the benefit of being consistent regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.</p> <p>Other analysts have reached different conclusions less favorable to nuclear. A 2015 state-commissioned <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> by the private research firm Energy and Environmental Economics found that the state could meet its 2030 climate goals without nuclear by <a href="" target="_blank">rapidly growing renewables</a> and by investing in upgrades to energy efficiency and the electric grid.</p> <p>Mark Jacobson&mdash;an engineering professor at Stanford University who has authored <a href="" target="_blank">several prominent studies</a> on how the United States could run on 100 percent renewable energy&mdash;added that he was confident California could meet its clean energy targets without nuclear. "Repairing Diablo Canyon will not only be costly, diverting funds from the development of more clean, renewable energy, but it will also result in down time, resulting in emissions from the background grid, which currently still emits pollution and carbon," he said in an email. ("Background grid" refers to the normal electric grid, which would have to pick up the slack in Diablo Canyon's absence.) According to Jacobs, "a more efficient solution would be to use those funds to grow clean, renewable energy further."</p> <p>For now, the fate of Diablo Canyon is unclear. But Steven Weissman, an environmental lawyer at the University of California-Berkeley who has watched Diablo Canyon from the beginning, said ultimately the state's biggest problem isn't its small share of power from nuclear&mdash;it's the majority share coming from natural gas and coal.</p> <p>"How are you going to deal with the power coming from fossil fuels?" he said. "If you don't solve that, you won't solve your [climate] goals."</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Infrastructure Wed, 03 Feb 2016 11:00:54 +0000 Tim McDonnell 295451 at This Chart Shows Why Your Conspiracy Theory Is Really Dumb <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em><strong>Update, 2/2/2016:</strong> Chris Bauch, an editor for PLOS ONE, said in an email that the author of the study we reported on below "should have used a different model for some of the analyses" and that the author "is working on submitting errata." Bauch added, however, that he is "pretty sure the correction will not change the conclusions&rdquo; and that he does not "foresee a retraction.&rdquo; We'll update when we know more.</em></p> <p>By now, climate change has joined the moon landing and the JFK assassination in the upper echelons of fodder for conspiracy theories. Back in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called global warming the <a href=";representation=PDF" target="_blank">"greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."</a> A few years later, Inhofe told our own David Corn that the climate hoax was <a href="" target="_blank">most likely being perpetrated by Barbra Streisand</a>. Donald Trump, meanwhile, thinks it was <a href="" target="_blank">"created by and for the Chinese."</a> I could go on.</p> <p>There's plenty of evidence that these conspiracy theories are garbage, starting with the <a href="" target="_blank">overwhelming scientific consensus</a> about climate science and the fact that <a href="" target="_blank">2015 was the hottest year on record</a>. But in case you're still not convinced, here's another bit of proof.</p> <p>In a new peer-reviewed <a href=";representation=PDF" target="_blank">paper</a> in the journal <em>PLOS ONE</em>, an Oxford physicist devised a mathematical formula for the lifespan of conspiracy theories&mdash;that is, how long it would likely take for them to be publicly unveiled if they were in fact true. It's not long: In the case of climate change, it's about 27 years if you assume the cover-up is perpetrated by only published climate scientists&mdash;and just four years if you assume it includes the broader scientific community.</p> <p>The author, David Robert Grimes, found similar maximum life spans for a few other prominent conspiracy theories:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/table.jpg"><div class="caption">Grimes, PLOS 2016</div> </div> <p>Let's pick, somewhat arbitrarily, preeminent climatologist <a href="" target="_blank">James Hansen's 1988 testimony to Congress</a> about global warming as the beginning of the great fraud. According to Grimes' formula, climate change would have been publicly outed as a hoax by 1992 if it were carried out by a broad coalition of scientific organizations. And it would have been exposed by 2015 if it were carried out only by published climate scientists. Unless I missed something, that didn't happen. (Sorry, the "Climategate" emails <a href="" target="_blank">definitely don't count</a>.)</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="conspiracy chart" class="image" src="/files/journal.pone_.0147905.g002_630.png"><div class="caption"><strong>Here's how long it would take for four big conspiracies to fall apart: (a) moon landing hoax, (b) climate change hoax, (c) vaccination conspiracy, and (d) suppression of a cure for cancer. </strong><em>Grimes, PLOS 2016.</em></div> </div> <p>Grimes' model is based on the statistical probability that one person within the conspiracy (one climate scientist, for example) would intentionally or accidentally let slip the truth. The odds of that happening go up as the number of people involved in the conspiracy increase&mdash;hence the shorter life span for the climate fraud if it involved broad scientific organizations (whose membership Grimes totals at more than 400,000). To help in that analysis, Grimes studied a few actual conspiracies, including the National Security Agency's widespread spying on US citizens that was exposed by Edward Snowden.</p> <p>Anyway, climate change is not a hoax. And we did land on the moon. And there isn't a hidden cure for cancer. And you should go get your vaccinations, dammit.</p> <p><em>H/T: <a href="" target="_blank">The Skeptics Guide to the Universe</a></em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:48:33 +0000 Tim McDonnell 295371 at Is El Niño to Blame for the "Explosive" Zika Virus Outbreak? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The outbreak of Zika virus in Latin America is <a href="" target="_blank">"spreading explosively,"</a> the director of the World Health Organization warned at an emergency meeting in Geneva on Thursday. Last week, the epidemic took a surreal turn when health officials in El Salvador advised women there not to get pregnant for the next two years. Similar, though less extreme, warnings have been issued by Brazil, Colombia, and several other countries. The virus has infected more than 1 million people during the current epidemic, and health officials say it may be linked to a spike in microcephaly, a rare condition in which infants are born with unusually small heads.</p> <p>Behind the outbreak is a complex combination of environmental and economic factors. Here's what you need to know:</p> <p><strong>What is Zika?</strong> Zika was <a href="" target="_blank">first identified</a> in monkeys in Uganda's Zika Forest in 1947. In the years since, the disease has slowly migrated eastward around the globe, following oceanic trade routes with the help of infected sailors and mosquitoes trapped in the holds of ships. The first serious outbreak occurred in <a href="" target="_blank">2007 in Micronesia</a>, where up to 60 people were infected, followed by cases in French Polynesia and on other Pacific islands. The current outbreak, which started late last year in Brazil, is the most serious yet and the first one in the Americas.</p> <p>Zika is carried by <em>Aedes aegypti</em>, the same species of mosquito that carries dengue fever, yellow fever, and <a href="" target="_blank">chikungunya</a>. Compared with those other viruses, the symptoms of Zika are very mild, most often resembling a bad cold or the flu. Deaths from the virus <a href="" target="_blank">are rare</a>. People can contract the virus if they are bitten by a mosquito that has previously drawn blood from another infected person; apart from mother-to-fetus transfer, there's no evidence yet of person-to-person transfer. There is no vaccine or treatment.</p> <p><strong>Why is Zika a concern for pregnant women? </strong>In pregnant women, the virus could be the cause of a rapid uptick in cases of microcephaly, which causes incomplete brain development. In Brazil, cases of microcephaly rose 30-fold between 2014 and 2015, from <a href="" target="_blank">147</a> to <a href="" target="_blank">nearly 4,000</a> cases, just as the Zika outbreak was taking place. That apparent correlation led to the precautionary pregnancy advisories, but scientists have yet to definitively confirm their suspicion that Zika is directly to blame for microcephaly.</p> <p>Microcephaly isn't unheard-of; in the United States, it occurs in roughly 2 to 12 babies per 10,000 births, <a href="" target="_blank">according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a>. But Heidi Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, said the troubling thing in Latin America is the rapid rate of increase in cases.</p> <p>"It's really quite baffling that we're seeing this microcephaly where we haven't seen it before," Brown said. "If [a pregnant woman] gets Zika, is she likely to have a birth with microcephaly? That seems to be yes, but there could be other factors. Trying to get to that&mdash;that it's causal&mdash;is a really daunting task. We're still very early on this."</p> <p>That message was echoed by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in a <a href="" target="_blank">blog post Tuesday</a>. Collins noted that US health officials, like their counterparts in Brazil, have confirmed the presence of Zika in tissue samples from some infants born with microcephaly. But he wrote that "it is now critically important to confirm, through careful epidemiological and animal studies, whether or not a causal link exists between Zika virus infections in pregnant women and microcephaly in their newborn babies."</p> <p><strong>What's the cause of the outbreak?</strong> According to Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, the outbreak was triggered by <a href="" target="_blank">"a perfect storm"</a> of biological, economic, and climatic events. <em>Aedes aegypti</em>,<em> </em>the mosquito that can carry Zika, has been growing in population in Latin America since first being introduced to Brazil via trans-Pacific shipping routes in the late 1980s. Brazil is also now in the middle of a severe economic downturn, while the government is in disarray as President Dilma&nbsp;Rousseff faces calls for impeachment for her involvement in a corruption scandal involving Petrobras, the state oil company. That has left the country with a weakened public health system that is struggling to effectively eradicate dangerous mosquitoes. This week, Brazil's health minister admitted he was <a href="" target="_blank">"badly losing the battle"</a> against mosquito-borne illnesses.</p> <p>But the most important factor, Garrett said, is a mosquito population boom triggered by above-average rainfall, a product of this year's <a href="" target="_blank">exceptionally strong El Ni&ntilde;o</a> in the Pacific. Over the last month, flooding in Brazil, Paraguay, and elsewhere has been the <a href="" target="_blank">worst in half a century</a>, forcing 150,000 people to evacuate their homes. Those conditions are perfect for mosquito breeding.</p> <p>"One of the hallmarks of these mosquitoes is they like very clean water," Garrett said. "So rainfall is perfect for them. If it creates puddles, or accumulates in tires or any sort of containers, that will be a breeding site."</p> <p>Combine that with steamy summer temperatures and lots of bare skin, and it's easy for a mosquito-borne disease to spread quickly. Along with the Zika outbreak, Garret said, dengue is also surging.</p> <p><strong>What about climate change? </strong>For environmentalist Bill McKibben, government warnings against getting pregnant were a shocking preview of the climate change dystopia just around the corner.</p> <p>"Think about that. Women should avoid the most essential and beautiful of human tasks. It is unthinkable," he wrote in an <a href="" target="_blank">op-ed for the<em> Guardian</em></a> on Monday. "Obviously we need to face up to the fact that pushing the limits of the planet's ecology has become dangerous in novel ways."</p> <p>McKibben blames the Zika outbreak on "mosquitoes whose range inexorably expands as the climate warms." But while it's certainly true that global warming <a href="" target="_blank">could lead to increases</a> in the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes, in the case of Zika, the mosquitoes in question have been well established in the affected region for nearly two decades.</p> <p>More important than changes in mosquito distribution is the change in rainfall caused by El Ni&ntilde;o. While this El Ni&ntilde;o wasn't caused by climate change per se, it is happening in a context of overall higher ocean and atmospheric temperatures&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">2015 was the world's hottest year on record</a>&mdash;that may have <a href="" target="_blank">helped make it stronger</a> than usual. And there is a growing body of research finding that climate change could <a href="" target="_blank">dramatically increase the frequency of severe El Ni&ntilde;os</a>, meaning that regardless of how mosquito ranges spread, places that already have mosquito problems now could see them get worse.</p> <p>Moreover, Brown said, increasing global temperatures mean longer breeding seasons for mosquitoes, giving them more time to infect humans. Mosquitoes also mature more quickly in higher temperatures, meaning they can reproduce sooner. And they metabolize faster, meaning they can pass a virus onto a new host more quickly after acquiring it.</p> <p>"It's a question of probability: What's the probability that I'll be bitten," Brown said. "The more [mosquitoes] that are out there, those probabilities start shifting."</p> <p>With all that in mind, Brown said, it's hard to draw any sweeping conclusions about the cause of this year's outbreak or make predictions about the future with only one year of data.&nbsp;</p> <p>"It's not just climate or vector control or human travel, but all of these things together," she said. "Maybe we just got unlucky."</p> <p>The upshot is that it's too soon to point a finger at climate change for this year's outbreak. And the ways in which climate change affects future cases of mosquito-borne diseases will be much more complex than simply where mosquitoes live.</p> <p><strong>Should Americans be worried?</strong> So far, there are no cases in which US mosquitoes have transmitted Zika to people in the country. But there have been <a href="" target="_blank">at least six</a> recent cases&mdash;in Arkansas, New York, <a href="" target="_blank">Virginia</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">California</a>&mdash;where residents who recently returned from traveling have tested positive. The CDC has posted travel advisories for more than a dozen countries with cases of Zika.</p> <p>But the National Institutes of Health blog post warned that when temperatures warm up in the spring, the virus could spread to mosquitoes across the Southeast and Midwest, putting some <a href="" target="_blank">200 million Americans</a> at risk.</p> <p>"It will definitely make its way to the United States," Garrett said.</p> <p>Paradoxically, "the El Ni&ntilde;o that is bolstering mosquitoes under the equator is probably protecting the [US] South now," she said. "But come spring, we could see very serious mosquito problems."</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Environment Animals Climate Change Climate Desk Health International Top Stories Thu, 28 Jan 2016 11:00:13 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294881 at Here's One Issue Ted Cruz Actually Gets Right <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>With the Iowa caucuses just a week away, Ted Cruz is duking it out with Donald Trump. But Cruz is also taking a beating from a less well-known opponent: the biofuel industry.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Apparently the ethanol folks don't like Ted Cruz... <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; David Biello (@dbiello) <a href="">January 21, 2016</a></blockquote> <p><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>The problem is Cruz's stance on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that requires fuels made from corn, sugarcane, and other biological sources to be mixed into the nation's gasoline supply. The most prominent of these fuels is ethanol made from corn. Cruz wants to abolish the RFS (along with <a href="" target="_blank">all government mandates and subsidies</a> for energy, including for fossil fuels and renewables). Last week in New Hampshire he <a href="" target="_blank">described the RFS</a> as yet another way in which the government is "picking winners and losers."</p> <div><div id="mininav" class="inline-subnav"> <!-- header content --> <div id="mininav-header-content"> <div id="mininav-header-text"> <p class="mininav-header-text" style="margin: 0; padding: 0.75em; font-size: 11px; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.2em; background-color: rgb(221, 221, 221);"> How the 2016 contenders will deal with climate change </p> </div> </div> <!-- linked stories --> <div id="mininav-linked-stories"> <ul><span id="linked-story-287986"> <li><a href="/environment/2015/10/ultimate-climate-candidate-matrix"> The Ultimate Presidential Climate Matrix</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-280011"> <li><a href="/environment/2015/07/john-kasich-climate-change"> John Kasich Actually Believes in Climate Change. But He Doesn't Want to Fix It.</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-277231"> <li><a href="/environment/2015/06/jeb-bush-global-warming-skeptic"> Jeb Bush on Climate Change: "I'm a Skeptic"</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-273261"> <li><a href="/blue-marble/2015/04/marco-rubio-president-climate-change"> Marco Rubio Used to Believe in Climate Science</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-273141"> <li><a href="/environment/2015/04/rand-paul-climate-change"> Rand Paul Is No Moderate on Global Warming</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-272011"> <li><a href="/blue-marble/2015/03/ted-cruz-seth-myers-climate-change"> Scientists: Ted Cruz's Climate Theories Are a "Load of Claptrap"</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-257241"> <li><a href="/environment/2014/09/hillary-clinton-fracking-shale-state-department-chevron"> How Hillary Clinton's State Department Sold Fracking to the World</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-266956"> <li><a href="/environment/2014/12/martin-omalley-longshot-presidential-candidate-and-real-climate-hawk"> Martin O'Malley Is a Real Climate Hawk</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-275161"> <li><a href="/environment/2015/05/bernie-sanders-greenest-presidential-candidate"> Is Bernie Sanders the Best Candidate on Climate Change?</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-294586"> <li><a href="/environment/2016/01/ted-cruz-iowa-ethanol-climate"> Here's One Issue Ted Cruz Actually Gets Right</a></li> </span> </ul></div> <!-- footer content --> </div> </div> <p>That position sets him apart from the other Iowa front-runners, Republican and Democrat alike. <a href="" target="_blank">Hillary Clinton</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Bernie Sanders</a> have both expressed support for the RFS. Trump recently said he wants to <em>increase</em> the mandate.</p> <p>Cruz's position could be a major liability in Iowa, where the RFS has become one of the most important corn-related federal programs and is a major fixture in the state's politics. Iowa <a href="" target="_blank">produces by far the most corn-based ethanol</a> and thus arguably benefits more than any other state from the RFS. Last week, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) <a href="" target="_blank">called for Cruz's defeat</a> in the caucuses, specifically citing Cruz's "anti-renewable fuel stand." (Branstad's son works for the ethanol trade group America's Renewable Future, the organization in the Twitter photo above.) Last week, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), a longtime proponent of the RFS, <a href="" target="_blank">said he agreed with</a> Branstad's criticism of Cruz. Of course, Iowa Republicans aren't all single-issue voters, and it <a href="" target="_blank">remains to be seen</a> how much ethanol will matter to caucus-goers.</p> <p>Still, Cruz's opposition to ethanol mandates puts him in a place you would never expect to find him: on the right side of a debate about climate change. Throughout the campaign, the Texas senator has been second only to Trump in his outspoken denial of mainstream global warming science. He has repeatedly used his Senate position to <a href="" target="_blank">espouse blatantly misleading data</a> that purportedly shows global warming stopped two decades ago. In August, he accused climate scientists of <a href="" target="_blank">"cooking the books"</a> and later <a href="" target="_blank">told Glenn Beck</a> that at this point climate change activists resemble a "religion."</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>But on ethanol, Cruz is on the right track.</p> <p>To understand why, let's back up a bit. At the global climate talks in Paris in December, the United States committed to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions <a href="" target="_blank">26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025</a>. That <a href="" target="_blank">goal mainly hinges</a> on slashing pollution from coal-fired power plants. But the president's plan also calls for filling the tanks of the nation's cars and trucks with <a href="" target="_blank">ever more fuel made from plants</a>. The same day the Paris talks got underway, the Obama administration <a href="" target="_blank">increased the requirements of the RFS</a>. The new rules guarantee a growing market for corn-based ethanol, as well as for cutting-edge biofuels made of everything from grass to algae.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2016/01/ted-cruz-iowa-ethanol-climate"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment 2016 Elections Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Food and Ag Ted Cruz Top Stories Tue, 26 Jan 2016 15:44:58 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294586 at Here's the Latest on the Epic Snowstorm Bearing Down on the East Coast <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yes, <a href="" target="_blank">2015 was the warmest year on record</a>. And yes, parts of the East Coast are in for big snow and ice storms this weekend. <a href="" target="_blank">Those two facts are not contradictory</a>.</p> <p>With that out of the way, here's what to expect from Winter Storm Jonas.</p> <p>The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows "a potentially paralyzing storm" that could affect up to 50 million people, NWS director Louis Uccellini told reporters Thursday afternoon.</p> <p>"Right now, the heaviest snow starts in the mid-Atlantic late Friday afternoon and then progresses up to the New York City area by Saturday morning," he said.</p> <p>The heaviest snow impact is likely to land on Washington, DC:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Blizzard Warning: High winds, around two feet of snow forecast for D.C. area: <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) <a href="">January 21, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Odds of &gt;18&rdquo; snowfall: DC: 73% Baltimore: 61% Philly: 46% NYC: 17% Boston: 0% Per NWS. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) <a href="">January 21, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Especially in New York and New Jersey, where snowfall could be <a href=";warncounty=NYC061&amp;firewxzone=NYZ072&amp;local_place1=Manhattan%20NY&amp;product1=Blizzard+Watch&amp;lat=40.7503&amp;lon=-73.9969#.VqEma1KICPg" target="_blank">up to one foot</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">major flooding is also predicted</a>, on par with what you would expect from major hurricane landfall. Farther south, Uccellini said, Kentucky and North Carolina could face ice storms and freezing rain. Through the weekend, he said, East Coasters should expect delays affecting highways and air travel. The electric utility in DC <a href=";id=6442458473" target="_blank">said</a> it has hundreds of crew members standing by to fix downed electric lines, and Port Authority workers in New Jersey are preparing to insulate underground train systems from the flooding:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Flood risk alert: <a href="">@PANYNJ</a> workers install flood protection-PATH Train elevtr <a href="">@1010WINSMontone</a> <a href="">@MarciRubinN12</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Carter Craft (@cartercraft) <a href="">January 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>As my Climate Desk friend Eric Holthaus <a href="" target="_blank">explains</a> at <em>Slate</em>, this storm is "the real deal." Uccellini said his staff are working around the clock (and sleeping in their offices) and doubling the number of weather balloons being dispatched to get the best up-to-date forecast. But even now, he said he was surprised by the unusual level of agreement across a wide range of models, satellite reports, and other data sources. In other words, chances are slim that the storm turns out to be a nothingburger.&nbsp;</p> <p>"I would suggest people pay attention to this system," he said.</p> <p>The upshot: Now's the time to buy some bottled water and batteries, and don't drive to work tomorrow if you can help it. Oh, and, uh, make sure to tweet responsibly:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Here are some tips on winter weather and being social media savvy. <a href="">#Winterstorm</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; NWS New York NY (@NWSNewYorkNY) <a href="">January 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Environment Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Thu, 21 Jan 2016 19:36:33 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294521 at 2015 Was by Far the Hottest Year on Record <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>2015 was almost certainly the hottest year since we began keeping records, according to data released today by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In a press release Wednesday, NASA stated that it was <a href="" target="_blank">94 percent confident</a> that last year was the warmest since 1880. Here's a chart from NOAA:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/temps.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA/NASA</div> </div> <p>"Record warmth was spread throughout the world," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. "Ten of 12 months were records. That's the first time we've seen that."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/months.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>Shattered global temperature records are becoming increasingly commonplace, thanks to climate change; with today's announcement, all five of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade. But the amount by which 2015 shattered the previous record, in 2014, was itself a record, scientists said. That's due in part to this year's El Ni&ntilde;o, characterized by exceptionally high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/globe_1.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>But Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the effects of El Ni&ntilde;o only really appeared in the last few months of the year, and that 2015 likely would have been a record year regardless.&nbsp;</p> <p>"2015 was warm right from the beginning; it didn't start with El Ni&ntilde;o," he said. "The reason this is such a record is because of the long-term trend, and there is no evidence that trend has slowed or paused over the last two decades."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/el-nino.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>Schmidt added that El Ni&ntilde;o is likely to persist into 2016, which means we could be in for a record-breaking year yet again.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Wed, 20 Jan 2016 16:06:49 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294406 at The Problem With Rooftop Solar That Nobody Is Talking About <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of years ago, Steven Weissman, an energy lawyer at the University of California-&shy;Berkeley, started to shop around for solar panels for his house. It seemed like an environmental no-brainer. For zero down, leading residential provider SolarCity would install panels on his roof. The company would own the equipment, and he'd buy the power it produces for less than he had been paying his electric utility. Save money, fight climate change. Sounds like a deal.</p> <p>But while reading the <a href="" target="_blank">contract</a>, Weissman discovered the fine print that helps make that deal possible: SolarCity would also retain ownership of his system's renewable energy credits. It's the kind of detail your average solar customer wouldn't notice or maybe care about. But to Weissman, it was an unexpected letdown.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2016/01/green-energy-rec-rooftop-solar-panels"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Econundrums Energy Tech Mon, 18 Jan 2016 11:00:15 +0000 Tim McDonnell 289966 at